Tobacco Forbidden, Marijuana OK
Smoking tobacco cigarettes is banned virtually everywhere in Santa Cruz County, but smoking pot, particulary medical marijuana, is sanctioned, at least in part, by Santa Cruz city law. In November of 2006, a 64% majority of voters in the city of Santa Cruz passed Measure K, which amended municipal code by adding an ordinance that requires Santa Cruz police officers and other law enforcement officers in the City of Santa Cruz to make enforcement of state and federal laws pertaining to the distribution, sale, cultivation or use of marijuana by adults their lowest law enforcement priority. Santa Cruz, an affluent city with a balanced budget, thus remains one of the nations most tolerant cities when it comes to treatment of drug use and abuse, and finds itself bothered by state and federal drug laws. The attitude by Santa Cruz citizens appears not that marijuana is recommended, but that in the face of such popular and widespread casual use of this relatively benign drug, enthusiastic local law enforcement should better spend its time combating other more important crimes. While the measure provides some protection for the recreational user on the beach, it makes specific exception for law enforcement to combat drug dealers, particularly those dealing drugs to minors, and where drugs and crime are associated, state and federal drug laws may be appropriately bundled for prosecution.
Medical marijuana, another wrinkle in the issue, was originally covered under the passage of California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act (California Proposition 215), which later was more precisely defined by state legislation passed in 2003 and 2004. Here, physicians can legally prescribe issuance of a special medical card to patients, and special medical marijuana stores may legally sell the product. In any case, this allows caretakers and patients to possess, grow, or transport medical marijuana, all of which remains in opposition to federal criminalization that dates back to the 1950's. In June of 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled that Federal authorities could prosecute physicians for prescribing marijuana, probably in part because it is not a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, in October 2006, probably recognizing that marijuana may indeed provide profound sedative and calming effects, particularly for terminally ill or chronically afflicted patients, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to create a municipal Office of Compassionate Use that would distribute medical marijuana. The legality of this city sanctioned distribution system is still being debated, but if created would be the first within the United States. Needless to say, the battle over state and federal laws pertaining to the use of medical marijuana is likely to continue for sometime into the future because of the US constitutional priority of state's rights for such civil matters.